By Campbell Bishop
The Manchester Met Debating Society held its first debate of the academic year on Thursday with 20 people in attendance. The topic under discussion was ‘Brexit’, one of the biggest concerns for many students right now.
The motion: ‘This house believes that Britain will regret Brexit’ – proved to be a sentiment that plenty of students had strong feelings about. Over the course of the evening many assumptions were challenged repeatedly. A preliminary vote offered few surprises; nine people were in favour of the motion while three were against. Would the power of debate force a shift in perception?
Speaking for the motion was first year Public Services student Joe Breen. In opposition to the motion was second year English student Callum Breese who, it must be said, was facing an uphill battle. Joe began proceedings with an impassioned, albeit suitably pessimistic, opening statement. In his view, Britain is experiencing dark, troubling times. Joe was quick to address the spike in recorded hate crime in the wake of the referendum result. He referred to a potentially dangerous, emboldened nationalism that he believes has arisen in the wake of the Brexit vote. Britain is turning its back on its continental allies, and withdrawing from its commitments; this can only lead to disaster down the line.
In contrast, Callum offered a more upbeat narrative. For him, democracy is key, and the ballot held on 23rd June 2016 was, above all else, the greatest exercise of democracy. Regarding the matter of hate crimes, he offered a different interpretation. While rightfully deploring all forms of discrimination and abuse, he was eager to emphasise the subjectivity of hate crimes; most cases are not investigated or verified by the authorities; if a claimant considers it a crime then it is defined as such. Callum was also confident that ultimately, once free from entanglement in the EU, Britain will be able to follow a confident course. Greater accountability in politics will ensure national success, eventually.
A general exchange followed between speakers as they challenged eachother’s arguments. Joe was keen to address his opponent’s points about democracy, asking why greater participation was not encouraged in local and European elections. Callum wanted to highlight the important distinction between abhorrent racism, and nationalism in general. Joe clarified that he was aware of a clear difference, stating that he opposed Brexit as a patriot himself.
Finally, during this entertaining exchange, the Brexiteer on stage offered some progressive sentiments, professing support for a fairer immigration system – for him, Brexit is an opportunity to engage with the rest of the world. Might some common ground emerge between our speakers? Well, the Bremainer could not disagree with the aim of greater global involvement, but for him leaving the EU is itself the worst way in the world to achieve it.
Given the strength of belief, there was always the prospect of getting sidetracked – it is all too easy to simply re-run the referendum debate – and taking questions from the floor gave the discussion a renewed focus. This also did much to broaden involvement – everybody had a chance to make an extensive contribution. Questions were asked about immigration, the economy, the NHS, defence, and the future in general to which both speakers made convincing replies. This was perhaps the most uplifting element of the evening, with many different people having a say, examining all the issues, and contemplating alternative arguments. But how exactly would this play out in the final ballot?
Both speakers made mercifully succinct concluding statements – the most effective strategy at this late stage. Now it was all in the hands of the audience. The vote was five in favour of the motion, four against, with one undecided. This lively debate had made an impact after all. There could be no regrets over its measured conduct as both Bremainer and Brexiteer parted on friendly terms. In the end, there was actually one thing we could all agree on, regardless of our political positions: Given how it will affect all our lives, we don’t especially want Britain to regret Brexit. With this in mind, we retired to the Union for a bit of light relief over a pint of cheap European lager.